Quality of foods can make all the difference in how you feel and how your body functions. While convenient and often appealing, filling up on foods that contain refined carbohydrates, are highly processed, and high in sugar may be satisfying in the short term, but wreak havoc on your body.
A new study that included over 371,000 participants age 50-71 years has provided data that shows people that consume a diet with minimal or low-quality carbohydrates have a higher risk of all-cause or cardiovascular death. However, those that consumed a low-fat diet while reducing their intake of refined carbohydrates and added sugar had a decreased risk.
Ultimately, the associations “suggest that a healthy LFD (low fat diet) with minimal saturated fat intake would be an effective dietary strategy for healthy aging among middle-aged and older people,” said Yimin Zhao, PhD, of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics in the School of Public Health at Peking University in China.
The study bolsters previous data that moving away from a Western diet- often characterized by refined grains, processed foods, high sugar drinks and snacks- and instead consuming whole grains, legumes, and nuts could be associated with as much as a 10-year increase in life expectancy among young adults.
Zhao and colleagues also reported that replacing 3% energy from low-quality carbohydrates with plant protein was associated with a:
- 10% lower risk for all-cause mortality
- 11% lower risk for all-CVD (cardiovascular disease) mortality
- 4% lower risk for all-cancer mortality
Healthy fatsn and grains to include in your diet
By now, there’s no doubt that you’ve heard of “healthy fats” vs. unhealthy options. There’s a wide variety of dietary fats available, some provide the body essential nutrients, but some should be limited, and others, completely avoided. Healthy fats include monounsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats raise HDL (good cholesterol) and lower LDL (bad cholesterol). Canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados are good sources of monounsaturated fats. Unsalted nuts contain monounsaturated fat, but they’re high in calories. Sprinkle them on salads or yogurt, rather than eating a 170-calorie handful.
You can find polyunsaturated fats in nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and vegetable oils such as corn and safflower oil. This category encompasses omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are known as essential fatty acids because our bodies don’t make them- we have to get them from food. These fats can help lower your total cholesterol.
Omega-3 fatty acids are wonderful. They fight inflammation, help control blood clotting, and lower blood pressure and triglycerides. Fatty fish like albacore tuna, salmon, mackerel, and sardines are good sources, even the canned options. Vegetable sources include soy, walnuts, and some vegetable oils. There are no specifics on how much you should consume, but the American Heart Association suggests eating at least two, 3.5-ounce servings of fish each week.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, shares “Dietary fats are found in both plant and animal foods. They supply calories and help with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. All dietary fats are composed of a mix of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fatty acids, in varied proportions.”
Whole grains include brown rice, rolled oats, farro, quinoa, brown rice pasta, barley, and more. They are comprised of three parts- the bran (the nutritious outer layer), the germ (the seed’s nutrient-rich embryo) and the endosperm (the germ’s food supply, which is high in starchy carbs). So when something is labeled “whole grain”, it means that all three parts of the grain are intact. Some nutritional benefits of whole grains include that they’re high in iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, B vitamins and dietary fiber. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shares:
These components have various effects on our bodies:
- Bran and fiber slow the breakdown of starch into glucose—thus maintaining a steady blood sugar rather than causing sharp spikes.
- Fiber helps lower cholesterol as well as move waste through the digestive tract.
- Fiber may also help prevent the formation of small blood clots that can trigger heart attacks or strokes.
- Phytochemicals and essential minerals such as magnesium, selenium and copper found in whole grains may protect against some cancers.
While many foods will have labels that say they are made of “whole grains”, seeing that stamp on the package doesn’t in itself meant the food is healthy. Many items that have a flashy label that highlight one benefit can often also be full of undesirable ingredients like sugar or sodium. When selecting items, choose foods that have whole grains as one of the first few ingredients. Check sodium and sugar levels and pick items that have as few ingredients as possible to cut out any unnecessary additives or preservatives.
The evidence is clear- what you eat matters quite a bit when it comes to how you feel and your longevity. Choose whole foods– fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean proteins, healthy fats, whole grains- and your body will thank you for it in the immediate, and in the long run.